We have over 40 monkeys here at the Primate Rescue Center, and the majority of them are macaques. There are many different species of macaques, but they all seem to share some common communication behaviors. One thing that is unique to macaques is a communication gesture called lip smacking. While in humans lip smacking usually just means bad table manners, in macaques it can mean many different things. In fact, researchers are constantly finding new meanings in the communication gestures of monkeys. It is a multifaceted subject, and one we may never completely understand, but what we do know is that lip smacking is a very important part of macaque communication.
The gesture itself is exactly what you might imagine it to be…quickly opening and closing the mouth, causing the lips to smack together and make a noise. (Check out this video of Zoe, one of our long-tailed macaques, lip smacking.) Lip smacking is a social behavior that usually results in friendly interactions between monkeys in a social group. Often, a monkey will lip smack to a more dominant monkey as a sign of submission. You might also see monkeys lip smacking to one another after having a disagreement as a way of apologizing and making sure all is forgiven. It can also be a sign of affection or contentment. Many of the macaques here will lip smack to the caregivers when we are passing out food or coming to check on them throughout the day. It is a sweet gesture and usually you can’t help but do it back!